Do you work for a European bank in London? Do you have issues navigating the politics with your European head office? This article is for you.
I spent several years of my own finance career working for a European bank in the City. I always got the impression that my colleagues at our European head office took a dim view of our culture in London. – We were seeing as overpaid, arrogant and above all disloyal. Given the chance of jumping somewhere else for more money, we would.
This was very different to the culture at our head office in Holland. There, the choice of alternative employers was very limited. And why would you leave anyway when you were working for the head office of a national champion? The same applied to working for SocGen or BNP Paribas in Paris –at home those national banks are very prestigious and no one wanted to leave. In London, they were in the second or third tier and people there are always on the look out. Who cares if you’re working for the “Goldman Sachs of Belgium” (as someone once said to me), when you could be working for Goldman Sachs itself (in London)?
This might explain why most of the bankers I met in Europe secretly wanted to move to London. They thought we were paid too much; they thought we behaved like mercenaries, but they wanted the prestige of working in the City too.
Meanwhile, we in London looked across at the lives of our colleagues in mainland Europe and felt our own envy. We knew that our colleagues on the continent worked shorter hours and had easier lives. History also showed that whenever the next downturn (or rogue trading losses) came, the cuts would always be deepest in the London office. - It was we who got fired, and they who kept their jobs.
The superior job security on continental Europe was partly down to employment law, but it was also cultural. – People don’t get fired in Europe. Therefore, if you lose your job in Paris, it means you’re genuinely useless. By comparison, if you lose your job in London, it’s just bad luck. – In London, you’re seen as no less competent for losing your job and in fact people who’ve spent decades at a single bank are viewed with some suspicion.
Culturally, therefore, London and Continental Europe have always been kilometres apart. In London, job- hopping and redundancy make sense (and are tax efficient!). Everyone gets on with individuals at competitor banks, because there’s a chance you’ll be working alongside them in future. Mainland European bankers with jobs for life have never quite understood this dynamic.
Of course, this could all change because of Brexit. European cities like Frankfurt have already weakened employment protection for well paid bankers, and an influx of people who previously worked in the City could weaken things further still. Maybe the cultural chasm will close?
More importantly, maybe French bankers won’t lose their jobs just because they’re useless in future - but because a tide of Machiavellian bankers with London experience arrive in their comfortable home market? If so, they might want to remember the advice of Machiavelli himself: "Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times." Consider yourself warned.
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